Kemp recalls experience in Afghanistan

Sergeant Patti Kemp joined the North Dakota Army National Guard on Aug. 18, 1998. She said that she was encouraged by friends and enlisted for the college benefits and to travel. Once she was sworn in, she went to complete Basic Combat Training (BCT).

By KAYLA SCHAEFER
For The Herald

Sergeant Patti Kemp joined the North Dakota Army National Guard on Aug. 18, 1998. She said that she was encouraged by friends and enlisted for the college benefits and to travel. Once she was sworn in, she went to complete Basic Combat Training (BCT).

Kemp arrived at the United States Army Training Center and Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C. She stuck it out and did what was asked of her, knowing that this was intended to make her a better soldier. She was quickly recognized as a leader in her platoon, became Combat Life Saver (CLS) certified, and kept to herself. She was determined to excel, and at the end of Basic Training her hard work had paid off. She, along with four other soldiers out of a total of 300, graduated BCT as an Honor Grad. This was where Kemp earned her first Army Challenge Coin. It was awarded to her and the other Honor Grads in a special celebration during graduation, where they were announced separately. This one was the coin she is most proud to have. After BCT, Kemp went on to train for her Military Occupational Specialty, or MOS. Kemp was a 21W (carpenter) when she enlisted.

Kemp with her four daughters. (Courtesy Photo)
Kemp with her four daughters. (Courtesy Photo)

After completing her training Kemp was assigned to the 142 Company B out of Wahpeton, N.D.

She then transferred to the HSC 142nd out of Fargo. It was in this unit that she received a phone call for deployment, and no more than three days later she was in Fort Carson (Colorado). Kemp spent three months at a mobilization station while sharing sleeping quarters in a maintenance bay, cot to cot, with her fellow soldiers. Kemp did not end up deploying and was sent home.

In the summer of 2005, Kemp received another phone call asking if she would volunteer to deploy with the 1-188th ADA unit out of Bismarck. “Give me a day to think about it,” Kemp replied, and ended up agreeing to volunteer. The deployment started in December of 2005 and Kemp was sent to Fort Lewis in Washington for Military Police training.

Kemp’s unit reported to Afghanistan during the spring of 2006.

“Arriving in Afghanistan was intimidating. Once you get in country and have desert beneath your boots, it sinks in that we might not all come home. It sinks in that it’s real. Your guard is up, your senses heightened, this is real,” she said.

During her time in Afghanistan, Kemp carried out combat patrol duty and helped teach Afghans basic rifleman-ship and defense mechanisms, such as building foxholes. Her platoon moved around often throughout her deployment and operated out of six different forward operating bases. Although Kemp did not experience combat herself, there were four casualties from her unit before the deployment was over.

There were difficult times during the deployment, but Kemp had some good memories to share as well. She explained how the Afghani children followed her and fellow soldiers everywhere. For them, seeing a female at the same level of authority as a male piqued their curiosity.

Kemp discussed another experience: a young girl, no older than seven or eight years old, approached her and pulled a brown headband out of her own hair and offered to sell it to Kemp. Kemp bought it from her for $1.00, and still has it today.

Although the children of Afghanistan were intrigued by the presence of American soldiers, the local adults were a different story. Women would duck and hide behind Burkas when they were near or passing American soldiers. Kemp recalled that when their convoys drove down the road women would turn their backs to the convoy and sit on the ground so you couldn’t see their faces.

Mail was not a reliable form of communication in Afghanistan, sometimes it would not reach soldiers for weeks. Kemp had trouble maintaining contact with her family back home. When she could, she would send back cards to her four year old daughter in the States. Kemp had a friend who was in contact with a church that sent letters and packages to soldiers who didn’t have a lot of support during deployments. Kemp received a few packages from an unknown couple throughout her time in Afghanistan and said it was greatly appreciated.

Food was another thing that Kemp had to adjust to during her deployment. She said they ate a lot of goat meat and she still misses it from time to time. At one point there was shortage of food and Kemp recalled one day they had burgers and she accidentally dropped her tray. The burger landed in the dirt and she picked it up and ate it anyways.

Kemp also experienced a water shortage in Afghanistan. There was a limit to how many water bottles the soldiers were allowed to have each day. During the winter months the water supply froze and the unit couldn’t cook or shower until the water was thawed. When asked what the longest period of time she had to go without a shower, Kemp stated it was just a little over two weeks, but was due to her being outside the wire not because of the water shortage. She resorted to bathing in a river during the night and remembered it was very cold.

To keep herself entertained in her down time, Kemp read a lot of books and played Bejeweled on her laptop. She came home with a foot locker full of books she had acquired throughout the deployment. Anytime she was able to visit a PX she would buy three or four books at a time and would also receive books in care packages or trade with friends.

Soldiers received two weeks of leave during the deployment. Her unit arrived home in the spring of 2007.

She admitted that adjusting to life after deployment was tough; the hardest thing to adjust to was getting used to everyday food again. The first time she drank a glass of milk, for example, she got extremely sick. She had gone almost a full year without having cows milk in Afghanistan. “It’s crazy how much can change in just a year,” Kemp stated. Once she got home her phone was no longer the most current phone, as technology is constantly changing. Kemp noticed that she had a tough time being around large groups of people. At her welcome home party a balloon was popped and Kemp reacted as if she had heard shots fired. She said it took a long time for her to desensitize to common sounds.

As Kemp reflected on her time in Afghanistan she noted that it is the 10th anniversary since arriving home. She enrolled in college as soon as she got back to North Dakota and attended for four years. She did not graduate, but instead became a stay at home mom for two years and then joined the civilian workforce.

Kemp transferred units and her MOS to the 816th Engineer Company out of Dickinson in the summer of 2008. She then moved to the 816th Detachment located in Mott, then back to the main body in Dickinson where she is currently stationed. She is currently a member of the Regent American Legion Post 273 and also serves in the Honor Guard. Kemp also visits the Lisbon nursing home every December, a cause the North Dakota National Guard raises donations for the veterans living there who don’t get the privilege of Christmas presents.

Last year the National Guard raised enough money to not only provide gifts to the residents of the nursing home but to also take some of the veterans on a trip to Medora. Kemp received another Army Challenge Coin for doing this selfless act.

In honor of the soldiers that gave their lives during her deployment, every June there is a Memorial March established by the fallen soldiers’ mothers. It covers roughly 12 miles and starts at the Bismarck Armory and ends the march at the Veteran’s Cemetery in Mandan.

When talking about her family and plans for the future, Kemp has a bright outlook. She explains that her children are very supportive and proud of her accomplishments, and understand when she has to leave town for duty purposes. They have a lot of respect for their mother in uniform and the multiple hats she wears. Kemp intends to continue her military training within her next two years of service, including the Basic Leadership Course (BLC) and the Advanced Leadership Course (ALC) which she will leave home to complete in January 2017. She will also participate in two three-week long courses for her new MOS certification as a 91E Allied Trade Specialist. Soon Kemp will be transferring to the FSC 164th Engineer Battalion out of Minot where she will carry out her new MOS. Kemp wants to continue serving her state and country for the foreseeable future.

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